Work limits may be easing for Va. adjunct college instructors; federal health law at issue

February 21

Virginia’s limits on the work schedule of part-time college instructors, imposed last year to minimize health insurance expenses of public community colleges under the Affordable Care Act, appear to be easing for at least some of the adjunct professors.

Kevin Pace, an adjunct music instructor at Northern Virginia Community College, or NVCC, forwarded to The Post on Friday an e-mail he received that indicated the college’s policy is changing.

Previously the limits for adjunct professor workloads in the Virginia Community College System, or VCCS, were described as 10 credit hours in each of the fall and spring semesters and seven credit hours in the summer. (A credit hour is an academic unit that roughly corresponds to the amount of classroom time per week spent in a course.)

Now the limits for adjuncts at NVCC appear to be moving toward 12 credit hours in the fall, 12 in the spring and eight in the summer. NVCC is part of the state system.

This development followed the Feb. 10 announcement of a new federal rule spelling out possible ways to define the workload of part-time college instructors outside of the classroom.

Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, colleges have faced questions about compliance with a provision that requires large employers to offer health insurance to personnel who work 30 hours a week or more.

The question at hand: Do adjuncts work that much?

Many adjuncts say they do because they spend major portions of their week grading assignments and preparing for classes. Many colleges, citing tight budgets of their own, say they can’t afford to take on more expenses.

Pace and others in the adjunct community viewed a policy shift in Virginia as good news because limits the state set last May had cut their workload — and therefore their income. Adjuncts, who comprise a substantial share of the college faculty in America, often struggle to make ends meet.

Pace was featured in a Washington Post story on this issue in July.

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Here's the text of the e-mail Pace received from an NVCC official:

Subject: NEW adjunct load guidelines

We learned today that based on recent guidance issued by the IRS the Chancellor’s office will be providing new and relaxed guidelines for the maximum load adjuncts may carry. The new maxima are 12 credits for Fall, 12 credits for Spring, and 8 credits for Summer. There is one caveat—the employer of record is the VCCS so we will have to take care to be certain of the load any adjunct carries that includes work at another VCCS institution. And yes, we may assume these apply beginning with the upcoming summer session. I’ll provide more details as they become available. Please share this information as appropriate within your campus.

Mel Schiavelli

Executive Vice President

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Here is a link to a memo that Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the 23-college Virginia Community College system, had issued in May setting the adjunct workload limits.

A spokesman for VCCS said Friday the issue is under review. “When a decision is reached, it will be announced and will apply equally to all 23 community colleges, including NVCC,” spokesman Jeffrey J. Kraus said.

Schiavelli, of NVCC, confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail. “We are still waiting for official confirmation of what we heard orally at a recent meeting,” he wrote.

NVCC, with 51,803 students as of last fall, is the state’s largest community college and one of the largest in the country.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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